Sunday, July 25, 2010

Mr. Nobody - finally revealed!

In our little corner of Eastern Slovenia, we’re within 30 minutes of three different countries – Austria, Hungary and Croatia. In fact we’re only 500M from the Croatian border. But it’s a part of Croatia that sees fewer tourists than the better known coastline. However it’s a particularly beautiful region – known as Medimurje Country.

One of the best known towns is Varazdin – 20 mins from us and a picture postcard town complete with fairytale castle, cobbled squares, beautiful buildings, cosmopolitan people and steeped in history. It was the former base of the Croatian Royal Family and there are plaques on almost every building – monasteries, castles, churches etc.

The Croatians also have a great sense of humour too. So whilst wandering around the town we stumbled across the following……

Monday, July 19, 2010

Caught On Camera...

A Visitor sneaking through our vineyard yesterday evening - thankfully not interested in Sipon grapes!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

A Foreign Invasion

A few nights back we had some winemaker friends over to dinner. The simple deal is that we open some “foreign” wines and enjoy a good night of food, conversation and wine. We did it a few weeks back, but the difference this time was that all the guests kindly brought the food – we just supplied the wine. Maybe the cooking wasn’t up to scratch last time!

We didn’t kick off until 8:30pm given the heat – and even at that point it was still up around 30 degrees. Tasting wines in hot climates is interesting: the reds all taste refreshingly cold – and the whites positively icy! However in reality, the whites are around 14-16 degrees and the reds around 19-20. It just shows you that everything is relative: if we were to drink whites at that temperature in Ireland, they would taste flabby and disjointed. Here, they taste fresh and invigorating (and much more “open”) and the reds take on a delicacy and fineness with wonderful nuances that would otherwise be hidden when tasted “warm”.

To kick off we had a Brundlmayer Zobinger Heilegenstein Reisling 2007 – we used to import Willi Brundlmayer’s wonderful wines and still have some of the 2002 that is drinking nicely. However on this occasion the 2007 was a little lean and lacking somewhat in vibrancy and depth.

Next up – with lamb, potatoes and salad - was a bottle of Fontanabianca Barbaresco Sori Burdin 2006 – one of my favourite “modern” Nebbiolos. Although aged in barriques, the fruit is still intense and tightly wound – still lots more to give in the coming years, but very pleasurable. Then a very great bottle: Tenimenti Luigi d’Allessandro Podere Il Bosco Syrah 1998. I have always been of the opinion that many Tuscan 2008’s are better than their 2007 counterparts – they have better definition and acidity. This proved the point exactly – wonderfully balanced with fine tannins and perfect fruit with a nice hint of gaminess beginning to develop. I can’t remember how or why we acquired a case of this and it definitely lay ignored for many years, but this was a really pleasant surprise. Great syrah from Italy? Really the only other one we’ve had has been the Isole e Olena Syrah – but this was better. Looking forward to the next bottle already!

Following the Italian Syrah, we decided to cross continents and open a Greenock Creek Seven Acre Shiraz 1998. Actually we had the choice of 1998 or 1997 – but the ’97 was labelled as 14.6% alcohol and the ’98 as 12.6% - so low alcohol won the day. It was unfortunately a bit of a disappointment. After the finesse of the Bosco, this tasted monolithic and stereotypically “jammy”. Plenty of ripe, “warm” fruit, but very little definition. I’m not sure if it was just in a strange phase as we have certainly previously enjoyed mature, interesting Aussie blockbuster reds – but this just wasn’t doing it that night.

So a back-up bottle was pulled from the cellar. In fact the last bottle we have of this wine: Enzo Boglietti Barbera d’Alba Roscaleto 1999. For those with long memories, or just egotistical nerdy wine importers like us, this wine was awarded Red Wine of the Year back in 2001 by the Best of Wine in Ireland (now sadly deceased). Back then it was a mini coup beating all the larger importers – and we continue to import Enzo’s wines today. So it has a lot to live up with a group of winos baying for elegance, flavour, evolution, balance and complexity. No pressure then. However it delivered on all fronts – and was joint “wine of the evening” along with the Bosco – and led to a discussion about the sad demise of the planting of Barbera in Slovenia and some mad scheme that we hatched to re-introduce it and take the world Barbera market by storm….. As we headed off to bed with the dreams of world Barbera domination firmly planted in our minds, the thermometer was still showing 27 degrees Celcius!

Hot, Hot and Hotter.....

It’s hot here at the moment – 36 Degrees Celcius as I write this. It’s been like this for the past week and some locals are talking about 2003 all over again – but in 2003 they apparently had 63 straight days over 30 Degrees and with no rain – so there’s a way to go yet! The vines still look OK and the grapes are well developed, without any signs of stress so far. Last year, at this point, they were still recovering from the hail!

However those (including us) that stripped back leaf cover in some east facing parts of the vineyard earlier in the season might be regretting it now. It just demonstrates that no matter what you read, no matter who you listen to, no matter what you did last year – the current year is always unique in what it delivers and therein lies the skill of the winemaker in adapting to these challenges as they arise. But for all that rhetoric, it’s still a bit difficult to put leaves back onto the vines!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Jamie Oliver in Slovenia

Ok, not quite the man himself, but one of his books made it here in the back of the car and I thought I’d amuse myself by building what looked like a very simple bread oven. Many concrete blocks, bags of sand, bags of cement, blistered hands, rejected roof tiles re-mixed with water and re-constituted as clay, a few sheets of rockwool insulation, 6 sets of gloves and a sunburnt back later – it’s finished…… and it looks nothing like the nice picture in the book! But it does cook bread, pizza and will also hopefully do the same for slow-roasted joints of meat – and possibly the odd naughty child if they’re really bold! It did teach me one key lesson which I really ought to have been old enough to realise: things in books and on TV always look much easier than they are!

It’s been a quiet 10 days or so. The kids finished school at the end of June and the local municipal swimming pools have all opened so they have been enjoying early mornings at the pool. The vines all got a haircut at the end of June and are once again looking tidy and like ones from a glossy tourist brochure. A few weeks more and they’ll get messy again. In the meantime, work continues on an ad-hoc basis to strip away some of the leaves from the northerly side of the rows so that the grapes get a bit of extra exposure to the sun in the mornings.

We have also been participating in some fascinating blending sessions prior to bottling – more to follow.

There was also a whirlwind trip back to Ireland to catch up on business there. Thankfully, all very positive!

Lastly, one of the most drawn out Bordeaux en-Primeur campaigns has drawn – finally – to a close. Long, frustrating and expensive – but ultimately very successful. Thoughts to follow..

Bordeaux 2009 - Where did the Wines Go?

I have to admit that we didn’t expect much from the Bordeaux 2009 campaign. We all knew the quality was outstanding, but nobody really seemed sure of demand or, more importantly, prices. We have been buying en-Primeur since 1996, so are relative whippersnappers, but I think even the old dogs were surprised. Demand for the best wines was unprecedented and we were fortunate that the relationships with the negociants we regularly work with in Bordeaux held up, even under severe pressure, and we were able to secure the majority of the wines we were looking for at the all-important opening price.

In terms of value, our sales were 30% higher than in the campaign for the 2005 vintage, but in terms of volumes we purchased 25% less. That gives you an idea of how the pricing went!

Yet, despite the predictions of pricing catastrophe, the wines have sold well and the majority have increased in value – by an average of 15% - 20% so far. There were, however, some wonderful pricing blunders on the part of the Bordelaise – wines such as Figeac, Ducru Beaucaillou, Cos d’Estournel, Yquem, Troplong Mondot and a few others all came out at prices that spoke more about their respective egos than any attempt to offer value to the eventual customer. Needless to say, they are all still available at their opening prices – and in some instances there have been behind the scenes offers where prices are dropping. If you blew it and priced too high, a very public humiliation where your prices are seen to drop is something you’ll do (almost) anything to avoid.

But customers that secured the wines at opening prices will be happy. Significant price jumps occurred with the release of the 1982, 1990, 2000 and 2005 vintages – and the higher prices have then carried forward – and in many instances actually lifted the prices of the older vintages as well.

But one question still puzzles me: where has all the wine actually gone? Aside from the statistics about sales by volume and value, the one striking fact from our perspective is that we have very little stock left. Normally we would accumulate stocks so that we can keep reserves for future years. This year it was just too expensive – if you wanted, e.g. to hang onto 10 cases of each of Lynch Bages, Leoville Barton and Pontet Canet it would be the guts of €30,000 tied up. Just for 3 wines. Add in a couple of Pomerols and St. Emilions and you're over €100K very quickly. If we are/were like other retailers (and I presume we are), then most of the stock has actually sold right through to end customers – which is good for the overall stability of the market.

However it’s an expensive challenge (or maybe ‘mistake’) if a retailer over-orders and then has to carry the stock forward – in Bordeaux terms, the most expensive vintage mistake to date! It will be interesting to see where everything stands in 8 months time with hopefully no casualties along the way.

In the meantime, those wonderful wines are ageing peacefully in the cellars of the respective Ch̢teaux Рand most are getting more delicious and more expensive by the day!